On February 6, 1958, a young Manchester United squad, returning home after having beaten Red Star Belgrade 5-4 in the European Cup, was ripped apart. The whole world of football was stunned with the loss of eight of the ‘Busby Babes’ in an air crash on their journey back home. Players that many had said were destined for greatness perished on the sleet-filled runway in Munich. The ‘Flowers of English Football’, as they were called, were no more.
United surprised everyone by reaching the FA Cup final that very season. Bolton may have taken the silverware, but Manchester United faced a much more important situation. It had taken Sir Matt Busby, who himself survived miraculously, years to build that squad. And now he needed to restart the process all over again. The whole club was determined to get back to the top of English football, with the club secretary at that time saying to reporters, “United will rise again.” Ten years on, after having won a couple of League Titles and FA Cups, Manchester United won its first European Cup.
Fifty years on, Sir Alex Ferguson is leading his own team to a possible League and European Cup double, with the Matt Busby’s principles playing a central figure in their campaign. Sir Matt didn’t believe in only winning, he believed in winning while playing entertaining football. Thanks to that ideology, United go into the final round of matches with a goal difference lead of seventeen on Chelsea. In short, if United beat Wigan Athletic 1-0, Chelsea would need to win 18-0 against Bolton to get their third title in four years on goals scored. And that certainly isn’t going to happen. For years Ferguson has emphasized the importance for playing attacking football, the need not only to win but to win big, and the benefits are now clear for all to see. United was talking of goal difference as being an additional point way back at the turn of the New Year, although then they had thought it would be needed against Arsenal.
Not only does the free flowing football help United with their goal difference, but also in making the club a brand. Ask yourself, what would you rather watch?
(a) a game filled with attacking, at times breath taking, football, filled with goals.
(b) a game with players slogging in midfield, trying to grind out a one or two goal victory.
I would be surprised if you pick the latter option. United is the richest football club in the world thanks to their style of football. Even Roman Abramovich looks at United as an example as the type of club he wants to own (He snapped up Machester United’s CEO Peter Kenyon soon after he purchased the London outfit). He’s a businessman after all, he’d like to see his club win and make big money at the same time. There is a lot for all clubs to learn from Manchester United’s success this year, a success whose foundation
was placed some fifty years back.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/edwin11/262774807/]